Environmental issues are no longer an invisible threat. With temperatures warming, oceans are heating up and extreme weather events such as hurricanes and forest fires, as we’re currently seeing in Australia, are happening more frequently.
There’s only so much individuals can do to lessen our impact on the warming planet, including flying and driving less and cutting back on meat. It’s on governments and businesses, especially corporations, to stave off catastrophe.
As we start off a new decade, let’s take a look at the sustainability pledges of the top fast food companies by revenues. As emissions that result from meat and dairy production are on track to contribute 70 percent of the total allowable greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the BBC reports, fast food chains’ decisions have a lot of impact on the planet, although most pledges have centered around packaging. As some of the largest brands on the planet, these moves will not only cut back on climate change causing emissions and pollution, but provide an example to other businesses.
The world’s biggest restaurant company in 2018 was the first fast food company to commit to sustainability. McDonald’s pledged that by 2025, “100 percent of McDonald’s guest packaging will come from renewable, recycled, or certified sources,” and also “to recycle guest packaging in 100 percent of McDonald’s restaurants.” For this year, it also set a goal that “100 percent of fiber-based packaging will come from recycled or certified sources where no deforestation occurs.” The company has also invested in a wind farm and a solar farm that it said will produce “more than 2,500 McDonald’s restaurants-worth of electricity.” As far as plant-based options, the Golden Arches is expanding its Beyond Meat test in Canada.
According to the coffee giant, “an estimated 600 billion paper and plastic cups are distributed globally,” and Starbucks accounts for an estimated 1 percent of that total. It has set a goal to “double the recycled content, recyclability and compostability, and reusability of our cups and packaging by 2022.” It plans to phase out straws this year. (A small competitor of Starbucks, Blue Bottle, plans to eliminate disposable cups entirely.) Starbucks, which said it has invested in renewable energy, has also set a goal to design, build and operate 10,000 “Greener Stores” globally by 2025. Starbucks offers several plant-based milks, and is expanding its lineup of non-dairy drinks.
The sandwich company hasn’t made any specific pledges, and pins a lot of the responsibility of energy conservation on its franchise operators. Subway offers a meatless Beyond Meat meatball sub. The company says its paper products, including towels, tissues and napkins, are made from 100 percent recycled material. As for the rest of its materials, including cups, wraps, bowls and lids, Subway makes no further commitments to make them more sustainable.
The popular chicken restaurant that closes on Sundays also hasn’t issued any major sustainability pledges. The company said last year it is “thoughtfully searching for sustainable design solutions that are recyclable, compostable or contain recycled content — starting with new bowls” made of recyclable PET plastic. Chick-fil-a has committed to reducing construction waste for its new locations. The chain offers no plant-based options.
5. Taco Bell
The Mexican-inspired food chain is the latest to issue a big sustainability pledge. It has committed to “making all consumer-facing packaging recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025 worldwide,” as well as adding recycling and/or composting bins to all restaurants, “where infrastructure permits.” Last year, it committed to more sustainable beef. Taco Bell has long featured vegetarian and vegan options, and recently made them more prominent on its menu.
6. Burger King
The other burger chain also hasn’t set any firm sustainability commitments for the decade. Rather, it said it will “continuously review our policies on animal welfare, sourcing and environmental impact to ensure that we remain good corporate citizens in the communities we serve.” The company, responding to a Change.org petition, said it will stop giving out plastic toys, but only in the U.K. At least you can get the Impossible Whopper at every U.S. store.
Of course, the companies who did make pledges are not beholden to them. It’s up to investors and consumers to hold each company responsible to do their part to reducing their contributions to climate change.
If any company updates their pledges, we will revisit and update this article.